Monday, June 11, 2012

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then, Maine’s children win”.

The actual quote is “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” We are paraphrasing a very famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi for dramatic effect. The same dramatic effect that a GAL we know said she was trying to achieve when she wrote a letter stating that a child she had yet to meet could become the next Jeffrey Dahmer or Unabomber if his mother had to go to prison as scheduled.

One of the many problems that need to be resolved is the GAL able to diagnose a child? Of course, in the case mentioned, two issues are in play. First, the guardian ad litem hadn’t met the child to diagnose any perceived problem. The second issue is, even if she had met the child, is it within a GAL’s ability and/or job description to make such a diagnosis?

Another problem as we see it, is that no matter how badly a case is handled, not in the results produced or custody determined but in procedures followed or lack thereof, the guardian ad litem has immunity. In several cases we have read about the court of appeals reviewed the cases and noted that immunity only applies if the guardian ad litem is acting within the scope of her duties. If a guardian ad litem is exceeding the scope of those duties then immunity does not protect the guardian ad litem. Those rulings are very rare but we do not understand why they should be.

The removal of a guardian ad litem, as in the case listed above, was attempted but the judge refused to do so even with another letter written on behalf of the mother. We believe that switching GAL’s should work in the same way as obtaining a different attorney. If your guardian ad litem is deficient in his or her duties or if you have a complete disagreement in all aspects of what both of you see as an agreeable situation for custody or visitation, allow a change in the guardian ad litem.
Mandate detailed billing that is updated and available to you, the client, on a monthly basis. Having a bill loaded with vague phrasing as in ‘sent an email’ or ‘wrote a letter’ tells you nothing. We would never accept that from a doctor, a lawyer or a plumber, why should it be acceptable from a GAL?

Potential changes on oversight:

• Move the Office of the Guardian ad Litem to the executive branch,and place it in an existing department. Or
• Move the Office of the Guardian ad Litem to the executive branch and make it an independent executive branch agency that reports to an appointed oversight board Or
• Move the Office of the Guardian ad Litem to the executive branch and make it part of the Attorney General’s Office. Or
• Leave the Office of the Guardian ad Litem in the judicial branch but have it report to a board appointed by the Judicial Council. Oversight by this new board could at least partially resolve the ethical conflict of having the Judicial Council supervise the GAL.

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  1. It would be nice if the Judicial Branch listed GAL behaviors that they consider violations of ethics and statutes- and the discipline in each case. What behaviors merit a reprimand? What actions would require "supervised practice"? And what would lead to loss of license as a GAL- temporarily or permanently?

    Instructions on how to make a complaint would help too.

  2. At the present time it is a guessing game. What are the Judicial Branches' standards of practice for GALs? Let's see: breathing, eating, walking, skills in psychobabble, and fee collection, good at quickly saying "in the child's best interest" when criticized.

    Do judges read the GAL statutes? Do they ever correct GAL's performance? Do they keep records or issue "report cards" on GALs in their courts? How would judges rate the GALs he./she works with in his/her court, A, B, C, D, F ? Do judges notice frequent combinations of GAL/lawyer patterns- GAL/lawyer almost a team? Way too busy for this sort of thing. Way too impartial. Brain dead?. Oh yes, and it wouldn't be" in the child's best interest".

    The JB ought to do a survey of district branch coziness. Consumers could suggest survey topics.

  3. The Maine GAL program defies common sense. Some of the poster child cases like Douglas vs Douglas are so loaded with psycho babble mumbo jumbo as to sound like witchcraft. It is hard to believe that educated judges take this sort of thing seriously and troubling to read that they base judgements on it. In "D vs D" the husband was described by a GAL as "caustic and controlling". This, it seems, was one of the reasons for disfavoring him in unsupervised visits with his child.

    How many men and women in the entire US might be described as "caustic and controlling"? Thousands! Hundreds of thousands! Some of these "caustic and controllings" are still married and in daily contact with their kids. Heavens! Shouldn't we go on a national hunt for "caustic and controlling" parents and, in their "child's best interest", and remove their children from this psychobabble danger? Notify Children's Protective service quickly. This and other shallow, personality labels, are presented by GALs with a straight face in court, and judges nod and take it seriously, when they should fall off the bench in a laughing fit. "Too take charge, might be bad for the child" was another, similar reason used to deny custody.

    These are all pseudo psychological formulations from junior mental health professionals that sound better than just saying, "I don't like this person!" They would be hysterically funny but for the fact that they are used to very destructive effect to deny custody and visitation in court and judges seem to take them seriously.

    There are numerous similar, nonsensical formulations, which are perceived as so damaging to a child that visitation and custody might be fraught with imagined dangers. Real dangers: high risk symptoms visible on a child's body often are minimized. But allegations of "caustic" are serious stuff!

  4. The JB is running a 3 rd rate MH Clinic as lawyers, GALs and Judges talk psychobabble, prescribe counseling, anger management, co-parenting, etc. with no goals, no assessment along the way and with great conviction. What is supposed to happen with these therapeutic, judicial "vitamins"? Hey, a blind shot in the dark, multivitamin can't do any harm, can it?

    And consumers pay through the nose for these mandated, non-specific therapies. Shall we consider it a form of judicial punishment for getting a divorce?

  5. There are a number of abuses of psychology that take place in Maine Courts:

    1.) The use of shallow "psychobabble" to label parties and to wrap bias towards one party in psychological terms.

    2.) the recommendation of "counseling" as a "good thing" with no problem specified, no goal in mind, no duration, no end point described. It is like random prescription of antibiotics for no medical reason. It might help somehow.

    3.) Anger management recommendations that fail to differentiate between normal anger and pathological anger. Some anger is fully normal in a divorce and therapy is not indicated for normal emotion. Anger management sounds good, but no one can really manage pathological anger or psychotic anger in a few outpatient counseling sessions.

    4.) Co-parenting counseling is likewise misguided in that it forces people whose divorce is itself a statement of inability to co-parent. Co-parenting is another pseudo fix which fails to recognize the fact that sometimes one of the partners can't co-parent due to mental illness, drug or alcohol issues, personality disorders, etc. Some of those so afflicted can't co-anything.

    5.) All of these psychological "fixes" are conducted by counsellors low down on the mental health food chain, who charge fees which impose additional financial burdens to couples already burdened. They become a form of court imposed fine on people who are struggling in many ways.